4 Crucial Lessons Every ECE Director Can Learn from the Montessori Approach to Employee Engagement
Warning: this article is not for the fainthearted ECE business owner.If you don’t want to find out what you’ve been doing wrong with employee engagement all these years, look away now. Because it turns out you have been doing it wrong—in fact, we all have. According to a study by Gallup, only one-third of the US workforce feels engaged at work. That leaves a massive two-thirds of the working population who are checked out, even though they're clocked in. So, what’s the answer? Lucky for us, we have the long-tested Montessori approach to fall back on. A school system that can be used to manage all people effectively—not just kids.The Montessori approach lists business leaders like Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin as alumni—and they’ve both claimed Montessori is the main influence in how they designed Google’s work systems and created one of the top 10 best places to work. Cool, right? Let's get into it!
Just so we're clear...what is Montessori?
Back in the early 20th century, Dr. Maria Montessori shook things up when she introduced her unique child care philosophy.Applying her own research to the classroom, she found pupils developed much more quickly when they were given a structured space where they could choose their own tasks, and take as much time as needed to complete them. Maria designed Montessori classrooms to be immediately recognizable: everything has its proper place. Children are focused and task-driven. Adults stand back and guide. Montessori schools can be found worldwide and the method they use is highly respected in many working environments—including HR.
So, what’s this got to do with my employees?
This may surprise you: Most people don’t go to work for money. Research by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic in the Harvard Business Review shows “there is less than 2% overlap between pay and job satisfaction levels.” He says, “If we want an engaged workforce… [and] employees to be happy with their pay, money is not the answer. In a nutshell: money does not buy engagement. ”But if it’s not all about bigger pockets—what does motivate employees? According to a study published in Forbes, people are motivated by peer interaction and recognition, and the desire to do well and make a tangible impact. So, how do we get our unengaged employees to experience this kind of motivation? Enter the Montessori method.
Lesson #1: Quit micromanaging!
Humans are capable. This is the basic idea Maria Montessori built her theories around. The natural abilities of the children she observed, and their instinct to progress unaided, led Maria to the conclusion that what they really needed was a guide rather than a teacher. She said, “The greatest sign of success for a teacher... is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’” And this idea can transfer to the workplace too. Google took it onboard with their famous “20 percent” rule, which allows all employees to devote 20% of their working week to any project they want—unaided by their managers. According to Eric Shmidt, Google’s former CEO, this extra space “empowers the employee with dignity [and] choices.”
Key takeaway: Give your employees time to develop their own ideas and the autonomy to execute them.
Lesson #2: The Prepared Environment
No one likes working in a messy office. And neither did Maria Montessori.Organization in Montessori classrooms is top of the agenda. Everything has its own place and each tool is there for a reason. This is known to Montessorians as “The Prepared Environment.” For directors and team leaders, it’s super important to make sure all employees know what lives where and that they feel comfortable in their working environment.In the words of the woman herself, “Freedom without organization is useless. The organization of the work, therefore, is the cornerstone of [the Montessori Method].”
Key takeaway: Maximize efficiency in your offices, policies, handbooks, finances, communications, and even your digital workflows by creating a clean, organized environment.
Lesson #3: Peer support is the new black
Montessori classrooms are noticeably different. And not just because of the ultra-organization. The real difference comes when the children file in and you notice they are kids of all ages. The mixed-age classroom is the foundation of the Montessori approach. It allows younger children to learn through imitation, and older kids to consolidate their knowledge and learn responsibility. Awesome. So, how can you bring this principle into your own ECE business? It’s all about peer-to-peer support. The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017 showed that millennials are now looking for increased support and mentorship from colleagues. If you want to retain your team members, it’s time to get them talking to each other.
Key takeaway: Set up a system that allows your employees to lean on and learn from each other. This could be through one-on-one meetings or via child care apps that enable communication between departments.
Lesson #4: R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
To quote another great woman, all your employees are really askin' is for "a little respect." Montessori is rooted in the foundation of treating each individual as a resource, not an object to ply with information. That means giving them respect, freedom, and a sense of control over their own lives. And the same should be offered to your employees. Blair Jennings, former Faculty member at the Center for Montessori Teacher Education, New York, says, “If we can treat individuals as resources… as their own best driver, we can increase self-esteem, productivity, contribution, self-confidence.”